On Maternal Mental Health Day WNT founder Jennie Duck considers how she finds being a mother and fantasises about things that she thinks would improve mental health in mothers and society
I love being a mother. I love having that relationship with my son. I love being around him, I love watching him grow, I love sharing his important moments and hearing him find himself and his passions. I love snuggling him to sleep and being woken by him in the morning (less so at 4am). I love the richness he brings to my life and the ways that relationship pushes me to grow and be a better person.
It is also challenging, in particular the expectations I realise I have of myself around what it means to be a mum and who else I am ‘allowed’ to be at the same time. I find the juggling is difficult and varied and I have had to work to create self care time as I wrote about in a Shame and Self Care blog. I am still working hard to hold onto myself as a broad, multifaceted creature and realise how easy it is to slip back into the assumption that being a ‘good’ mother is synonymous with total self sacrifice. These are my expectations on myself and that I see in mothers around me, which must come from the world and society in which we were raised.
Maternal mental health is important for our children’s mental health and for our society at large. And I believe it is a challenge to all mothers to maintain mental health. We have a constant need to juggle and our brains and bodies are expected to jump in all directions often simultaneously. We are often tired and overstretched and I think our society has a long way to go to accommodate flourishing mental health for us.
I love Caitlin Moran’s insight into how we are forever changed on a chemical level by motherhood:
“No one really talks about the chemical elements of parenting but when you think about it, this is what underpins everything. Humans are essentially bags of chemicals We choose our mate on their smell, their hormones subliminally whispering to us in a neanderthal grunt ‘this man make good baby with you’ then when a woman gets pregnant, what is created in her uterus is essentially a living hormonal implant emitting random amounts of fuck knows what into her system and rewiring her entire body and brain in a massive hormonal pyroclustic blast that she never fully recovers from” (Caitlin Moran in More Than a Woman)
Here are my fantasies of how a shift in our expectations could come about that might better support maternal mental health:
...It was widely understood and accepted by society that pregnant women are going through an immense change that involves so much loss as well as gain. That there is much to be grieved in becoming a mother - a sense of self, alone time, sleep, some friendships, an ability to wholly commit to something else, our bodies as they were, our attitudes as they were - everything as it was!
...we recognised openly that ‘tired and hormonal’ can really mean ‘can barely lift myself off the chair and feel like my brain is exploding’ and realised that those things shouldn’t be ignored just because they are common, that in fact this is womanhood in all its glorious colours, a rainbow to be celebrated and supported.
...our society recognised the value in rest and supporting mothers to get rest that they need from the early weeks of pregnancy through to their children leaving home, that work breaks for naps were a given and it was built into our expectations that we are all healthier and happier when well rested.
…our government understood ’supporting childcare needs’ less as simply making the age for group child care lower and more the benefits to our future society of child care with a much lower adult to child ratio
...we gave more space to the fact that bringing a child into a relationship utterly changes the relationship and can often leave the person who didn’t give birth feeling left out so that couples finding themselves in this difficult place don’t feel bad or wrong and instead know this is their rites of passage to get through.
...we allowed women to work and be a primary carer by helping support the caring part better, that the person paid to look after the child can feasibly be the one who loves them best and that we didn’t feel it was a constant sacrifice between our work passions and our family as to who gets more of our time and energy.
...we celebrated the changes in women’s bodies that come with pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, getting older and the menopause and let go of any expectation or idealisation of ‘back to a pre-pregnancy body’ - what if we could celebrate every stage of women’s bodies....
...it was widely understood that Feminism doesn't mean ignoring biology but restructuring society so that we can accommodate everyone fairly rather than simply ‘letting’ women do more and more things.
...things that strengthen our bodies, minds and spirits like yoga, mediation, therapies and walking were valued to such a degree that we assumed it was part of our every day like eating and washing.
...we understood that you cannot separate the physical from the mental or emotional and that our mental health is always going to be affected by things that affect our bodies, like pregnancy and motherhood.
The optimist in me sees some steps in some of these directions and is hopeful that society is changing, however incrementally. At the heart of any of this change is kindness and compassion - things that we so value in the act of mothering that surely should be so highly valued in how we treat our mothers in society.
WNT founder Jennie Duck shares her thoughts on how shame get in the way of self care and how spending time with her own shame and prioritising self care has helped transform her life and relationships for the better.
The idea of shame as an impediment to self-care has been niggling at me for a while. I wonder how much our ideas of what we ‘should’ be doing get in the way of what we really want to do and what we feel is a justifiable use of our time. I wonder how much we sacrifice ways we can nurture ourselves for the ‘greater good’ of work, family and duty and I wonder how much of a negative impact this has on our lives, and those around us, that we don’t always see.
When I talk about ‘self-care’ I am talking about things that nurture our bodies, minds and spirits. The things we love doing, things that make us come alive. Self-care is the things that nourish us. Self-care can be exercise, nutrition and meditation. It can also be music, art, creating something, playing with a pet, talking with a close friend.
For me, the exercise, nutrition and meditation side of things are easier to get to. This is because my personal version of shame means that for me to feel worthy I must be ‘healthy’. But it took an outsider view from my husband when he told me a couple of years ago “I’m scared the mornings you don’t do yoga” to recognise that the value in taking time for myself extended beyond just me looking after myself, that it had a knock on impact on the rest of my family and life.
I used to feel a lot of shame, too, around the good feelings that came from looking after myself in this way. I felt good and then felt ashamed that I felt good – life is meant to be hard, I’m meant to strive, I have responsibilities, I can’t be relaxed and happy??! So this led to spirals in how I responded and the ‘healthy’ behaviours became undermined by excessive consumption of sugar or alcohol or I just wouldn’t make a positive choice and self-sabotage myself.
Two years later, now that my own self care is a priority in my daily life, I don’t have these battles. My husband doesn’t have to be scared the mornings I don’t do yoga because if I haven’t it’s probably because I have done something else nurturing or I know I will find the time elsewhere for it. It’s not so pressured and the overall benefits of making this a priority mean I don’t have the same level of desperation around it, I don’t need to escape regular life so much and I don’t have the same shame triggered in me to knock me off course. I am more resilient.
To get to this point I had to spend time with that shame that trapped me. The shame that told me that I wasn’t good enough and that my time wasn’t only worthwhile if it was spent slogging on something or doing something for someone else. We all have our own shame triggers but there are common themes. Shame and vulnerability expert Brene Brown says “shame drives two main tapes: ‘never good enough’ and ‘who do you think you are’”. Both of these resonate for me and are shackles that still restrict me, but they don’t have the same power that they used to have.
And now the next layer of freedom I am discovering is that I am now more able to move toward the things that I really want to do but aren’t as immediately ‘justifiable’ in my personal shame-frame of reference. I am spending time creatively, for the joy and fun of it – I still feel guilty about this and about choosing these solitary and ‘aimless’ ways to spend my time. I had to fight myself using the word ‘indulgent’ in this description!
We can’t let go of all of these other things – my family, my work and paying the bills are all vital to me – but maybe we can ease up on the limitations we place on ourselves in honour of these if we can face the idea that perhaps its more than the reality of those getting in the way, that perhaps it’s our relationship with them and our relationship with ourselves that needs some attention first. And perhaps if we can do that then these things we are making the sacrifices for will become richer because of it.
WNT founder Jennie Duck explores the competitive spirit that resides in her and looks at how the lessons of yin yoga helped her to let go of some of this striving and learn to live more gently and happily.
Over the past few years I’ve been working on letting go of a competitive streak in myself. This streak has a strong genetic influence and is not entirely unhealthy – it has helped me carve my own path, to meet interesting people and try interesting things, to build a career and business, to keep learning and growing and setting my sights high and far. It has given me ambition and for a long time I was grateful for that.
But I have learned that ‘ambition’ is far from a happy state and indeed is a barrier to wholehearted living and any sort of internal peace and contentedness.
The tool that has helped me shine a light on my relationship to competitiveness is yoga and, in particular, yin yoga. The irony is that it was my competitive streak that held my attention to yin yoga – proof that nothing is ever ‘good’ or ‘bad’, the richness lies in the ambiguity and dualities.
The first yin yoga class I did was called ‘deep tissue stretch’ and it was with Andrea Kwiatkowski on Movement for Modern Life, a blessing in the form of a subscription platform that has improved my life a gazillion fold with excellent teaching and ability to have daily classes for all moods and needs. I liked the sound of this class that would reach into areas ‘like a massage’ and looked forward to the results.
It was tough! I struggled to find ease in many of the poses and the idea of holding them for 2-5 minutes was new to me. Andrea held my attention with her acknowledgement that ‘you might find this quite a frustrating practice’ – so I understood that it wasn’t just me and I stayed with it.
I gradually learned to back off, to ease away from ‘the edge’ as it is referred to in yin and to approach each pose in a softer way. I learned that this allowed the release I needed to go further – that yielding in my striving led to the yielding my body was craving, that easing off my effort allowed me to find much more progress and development in the work I was doing with this practice.
My physical yoga practice, known in yoga as asana and how we often understand ‘yoga’ generally, is my training ground for life and a touchstone that helps me understand who and where I am and what needs to change and how that change can come about in my life off the mat. So these lessons of yin, of lessening the effort, of not pushing so hard or trying to override where you already are, of going with rather than against and of listening acutely and – importantly – staying with what arises became my pillars of life. My benchmark for ‘success’ has become more about how it feels and what comes out of it for my growth rather than any external validation or acceptance.
Of course this doesn’t happen overnight, I am still on this journey of listening and adapting and learning and I see it as a lifelong journey. As is the other side of the coin, the letting go of what others think and the doubt of whether I am ‘good enough’ for my place in the world.
Competitiveness may be a fun and helpful trait for many and in many circumstances. I love watching an exciting game of rugby or 100m sprint and that wouldn’t be the same without the competitive spirit. But when it is part of your life to remove you from the here and now, to validate yourself and to make you push when perhaps pushing isn’t right, then it is not healthy.
At this time of year when we set ourselves targets and insist we must be ‘better’ this year, may we have the self-compassion to approach this with gentle discipline and kind self-talk. My goal is to commit to things that appeal to me, to follow my path and grow every day without force and allow adaptation and change when I meet resistance. Happy new year :-)
West Norwood Therapies is in it’s 6th year and with each year has come a different phase in our lifetime. As it’s founder I’ve learned to let it evolve rather than try to control that evolution too much and no phase was less planned than this one! Not much about 2020 was expected and these extraordinary circumstances led us to contract rather than expand and we are now a team of 6 (plus me as a 7th managing things from Scotland) down from the 12 we were at the start of the year. This was a sad transistion and we have all grieved the loss of the team that was and the second lovely studio room we had to let go.
In my experience, if you can stay with the clouds awhile they gradually part to show the sunshine and I feel encouraged and satisfied that this new phase is a sunny one. In these covid-determined times we are feeling how important it is to connect and that emphasises the values that are at the heart of WNT. We are all part of this collaborative collective because we want to work with other skilled professionals, to have a supportive team around us and to be able to work with our clients in a meaningful way.
We had paused on our normal blog sharing, social media posts and promotions as we adjusted to working in an adapted way and we feel like it would be good to start to share our story of how we are now which we will do over the coming months. We will look at what WNT is, who the team are and then explore some of the ways we work using the 5 aspects of wellness Laura explored in her recent blog – physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social.
So we hope you will enjoy following us and getting to know us better either on Instagram or Facebook and we’ll include what we can in our monthly newsletter.
WNT founder Jennie Duck reflects on what it takes to create a therapeutic environment and her pride in a team that has rallied to make the most of a challenging situation - we are so excited to be working again!
Just before lock down I was getting ready to start a massage practice up where I live in Scotland. I was looking forward to getting back to something I love and feel is valuable. Part of what I love to offer is the practical, physical aspect of massage itself – the warmth of touch, the kneading and cajoling to find release in tense muscles, the relaxation that can be found even in strenuous massage.
But there’s far more to it than that.
There’s the space and the environment that we as therapists invite our clients into, the fact of creating this ‘womb’ as a friend of mine calls it where you feel safe, welcome and accepted before we get into much treatment even. The warmth and lighting matters, the space and air matters, the cleanliness matters, the energy we’re giving out matters – there are a lot of things that go on ‘behind the scenes’ to create this environment at West Norwood Therapies.
Then there is our interaction before we actually meet in person – any calls or emails beforehand and then our initial consultation and initial chat for follow up appointments. This is when you get an opportunity to glimpse us a bit, to understand how capable we are of listening and hearing you and tuning into what you are looking for in your visit. This is important as it lays the foundations of trust which will determine how much you relax into the treatment and how our intuition feels its way as we work which can together greatly enhance the effect and value of treatment.
And then the treatment itself – in my case a massage treatment. Here you are literally in my hands! You are trusting me to work on your body and in some instances to really get stuck into areas of long held tensions and stresses that are potentially part of a self-protective armour, while keeping you comfortable and suitably covered. It requires me to be sensitive to this and to trust your body’s responses and my instincts to work where is needed but not beyond that. A lot of trust on a conscious and subconscious level as well as some intimacy in a practitioner-client relationship.
Fast forward 5 months and here we are opening West Norwood Therapies in a different light. We have had to look at our space, carrying out risk assessments and removing a lot of the fabrics and knickknacks that we had put in to make it homely and warm. As we first started to look at things I wondered how on earth we were going to retain the essence of treating people as I’ve described above. How can we make the environment inviting without an electric blanket? How can we create a bond of trust when we’re masked and you can’t see our smiles and more nuanced facial expressions? How can you feel safe enough to relax and let the therapeutic work really happen when there’s a global pandemic around?
Well, I am humbled and impressed at how my colleagues have rallied and worked to make all of this feasible and proud of what we have achieved. We have been open for almost a fortnight and the feedback has been positive both from clients and from practitioners. It is a different way of working, particularly wearing PPE and having to be careful which surfaces are touched and to dutifully clean and disinfect everything between clients, to have an air filter working and take time to air out the room. But the essence of the care, warmth and skill that they are all sharing with you as clients and the connection that they make with you is all there.
I am excited and reassured that we at WNT (minus me in Scotland and the practitioners who sadly couldn’t return due to closure of the studio space) are able to open again and be able to offer our valuable services to the same high standard as before. We know that there have been ripples of trauma touching people in all sorts of ways the past few months and hope that we can be of service to you now.
Blogs from the WNT team. For our blogs from before June 2020 please see individual profile pages - it's a good way to get to know practitioners too.